Carlsbad council eyes operating budget

CARLSBAD — Council members took a thorough look at Carlsbad’s preliminary operating budget for the next fiscal year at the June 8 council meeting
Despite a few concerns regarding fee increases, the council applauded city financial staff for creating and maintaining a budget that has left the city’s financial reserves untouched.
“I think what makes Carlsbad different is that we’re proactive, not reactive,” Councilman Matt Hall said. “We’re ahead of the curve, not behind the curve.”
City staff utilized both Carlsbad’s goal and a 10-year forecast to determine the coming fiscal year’s budget. The preliminary operating budget represents 77 percent, or $189.1 million, of Carlsbad’s total budget for 2010-2011.
The operating budget includes, but is not limited to, the general fund, redevelopment and enterprise funds. These departments cover water services; public safety; the library; and redevelopment operations, among other key services, said Judi Vincent, the city’s budget manager.
The proposed budget could have the city operating at $2 million less than previous years, with a projected surplus of about $150,000, Vincent said.
City Council members were most concerned with the staff’s expected increases in the water enterprise budget, which makes up $37.8 million of the total budget.
Although Carlsbad’s residents are using 25 percent less water than in previous years, water rates are projected to increase to compensate for lack of demand. Residents could see an additional 12 percent added to utility bills starting as soon as January 2011, Helga Stover, senior accountant, said.
“How can I explain to people who cut back on their water, they’re doing all the right things, that it’s going to cost more?” Mayor Pro Tem Ann Kulchin asked.
Hall and Councilman Keith Blackburn both expressed concerns for the city’s agriculture sector, which would not be spared should the rates increase. They fear that if prices become too expensive, the city could lose a lot of agricultural jobs.
“In some way, we need to work out that the water isn’t the reason that we no longer have the flower fields or the strawberry fields,” Hall said.
The staff presentation also included reports from city department leaders, including library and fire department representatives, detailing future plans that meet proposed budget constraints.
“I think you guys, in all major respects, have developed a plan that represents the goals and priorities we’ve talked about,” Councilman Mark Packard said.
Citizens are encouraged to provide feedback on the budget, which staff will present to the council members before the June 29 public hearing, when the council is expected to adopt the city’s 2010-2011 Operating and Capital Budgets.

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